Maiden voyage of the QM2

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There she was, in all of her advertised superlatives: the greatest, the largest (151,000 tons), the costliest (about $800 million), the most beautiful superliner ever built, ad infinitum. It seemed that not enough praise could be lavished on any one vessel. In our opinion, she deserved all these accolades and more.

My wife, Lili, and I had seen news stories and ads in various travel papers and in our wildest dreams believed that being part of history in the Queen Mary 2’s maiden voyage might top off our life of travel throughout a great deal of the world.

Don and Lili Tremblay embark Cunard Line’s QM2.

At 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 12, ’04, the QM2 (earlier in the week christened by Queen Elizabeth) finally sailed away to the sound of a band playing, among other pieces, John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” There were well-wishers waving, drinks being passed around on deck (for a fee) and the feeling of euphoria. At the same time, many of us were thinking of the Titanic, which sailed under similar circumstances, while some concealed their concerns for security on a vessel that was such a logical potential target.

Much preplanning had gone into our trip. About eight months prior, we committed ourselves to one of the few remaining staterooms. Many other passengers had bought their tickets up to 18 months before. Advertised prices ranged from $2,869 per person for the lowest-class standard inside accommodation on a lower deck to $37,499 per person in the grand duplex suite. Our category was deluxe balcony at $6,249 per person.

These figures, however, do not reflect other miscellaneous add-ons which were later attached to the total bill, such as port charges, one-way airfare from Los Angeles to London and another one-way fare from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles.

And although advertised as an all-inclusive fare, each passenger was later billed $154 for tips. When confronted with this amount at the final reckoning of accounts, many people were quite dismayed. This sum, in fact, became part of the service persons’ wages instead of an actual tip. In other words, it was part of the overall contract, and no matter how much effort an employee displayed, he or she was not going to receive any more. Therefore, there was no incentive for personnel to go out of their way to please. Those who went above and beyond the call, however, were additionally rewarded with tips from individual passengers.

Lili and I spent three cold, blustering, wet days in London before the actual sailing date. We could not chance a possible strike or delay because of winter weather. As always, the city, still in Christmas mood, was bustling. Year-end sales were everywhere, but while prices may have appeared enticing to the natives, the exchange rate was discouraging at nearly two dollars to the British pound. As a result, we found everything very expensive. Nevertheless, on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, we went with the flow and had a great time — even walking in the rain.

The QM2’s many decks and lifeboats (capacity, 120 persons each). Photos: Tremblay

I would caution anyone boarding a ship in Southampton to plan well in advance and choose their mode of transportation carefully. We elected to go by train from Waterloo Station to Southampton (first class). We were loaded down with three roll-on suitcases and three carry-ons (filled with clothing for the cold of the first part of the trip, everything on board and, finally, for the tropics).

We were at a distinct disadvantage at the railroad station. Not only were trains being canceled and delayed because of inclement weather, we were entirely on our own — there were neither baggage porters nor carts that we could use.

The train itself was comfortable and not crowded, but it was difficult to board and alight. When we eventually reached the city of Southampton, we had just minutes to get our luggage off the train, after which we took a taxi to the ship. There certainly must have been a better way than the train. Others had used buses from various points.

All of this did not diminish from the excitement which awaited us at dockside. We were seemingly transformed into another world as taxis and limousines disgorged happy, anxious passengers with tons of luggage everywhere. So much luggage, in fact, that the ship’s porters could hardly keep up with the avalanche. For this reason, the ship departed an hour later than scheduled. Baggage was still on the docks as we were throwing out confetti streamers.

The first two days at sea were relatively rough (gale 8 conditions), and passengers were rather queasy. But by the time we reached the town of Funchal on Madeira Island, the seas were smooth and quiet. This condition prevailed throughout the remainder of our voyage across the Atlantic.

Everyone had the opportunity of electing side trips, which included Funchal plus Tenerife and Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. It was in the latter that we received our greatest welcome and sendoff. It being a Sunday, thousands of Spaniards grouped on the dock area, dancing, singing, waving and generally having a good time. Bus passengers on later excursions needed police escorts to move them through the crowds to the ship. This genuine spontaneity and goodwill of the Spanish people overwhelmed us all with emotion.

One of many fireboats meeting the QM2 in Ft. Lauderdale on Jan. 26.

We sailed along for 14 days, stopping at Barbados as well as St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

While I could describe the ship itself in greatest detail, let me just say that it lived up to its expectations. It was large, true, but also beautiful and comfortable. Staterooms were adequate, and service in all areas was excellent, provided by young people from Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Lithuania, Germany, the U.K., Canada and (the largest contingent) the Philippines. To our knowledge, there were no Americans.

The food was good and served in very moderate quantities in the main 2-story dining room, the Britannia. With so many other restaurants aboard, there was quite a variety of menus to choose from.

We were never at a loss for things to do. The program was full from early morning to late at night, and we could find something to our liking most of the time. There were 40 lectures sponsored by Oxford University; watercolor lessons; computer rooms and instruction; dance lessons; a fully equipped gym with its own swimming pool, massages and treatments; a planetarium with daily shows; a casino; multiple bars, and entertainment each night featuring guest stars such as Shirley Bassie and “American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard. Each day could easily have ended past midnight.

Many chose to sit around the outdoor pools to tan. This was especially true of the Northern Europeans aboard.

A bout of bronchitis even provided us the opportunity of visiting the ship’s medical facilities. They were quite adequate, and the two doctors aboard were very competent.

The most emotional arrival of the QM2 occurred as we approached our final destination, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Jan. 26. Scheduled to arrive at 8 a.m., the ship earlier had edged its way into the channel (no tugs were used anywhere at any time) and then 24 helicopters suddenly appeared overhead! That was something to behold.

Almost as suddenly, Florida Governor Jeb Bush made an appearance aboard the vessel. Security was very tight, with myriad police and Coast Guard boats all about. A U.S. Navy vessel was also alongside with its crew lined up in white uniforms to greet (and protect) us. Thousands of people lined the shores to wave as whistles and horns blew and fireboats shot streams of red and blue water high in the air. The sheer joy of it all was breathtaking.

Sure, there were kinks in the cruise. For instance, several days passed before restaurant service could be deemed adequate. It was apparent that the kitchens were overwhelmed with demands of a thousand persons at each of two daily sittings.

And then there was the the luggage question. With more than 2,600 passengers disembarking in Fort Lauderdale, we almost lost our cool waiting for bags to be offloaded. For some of us, this wait extended to five and six hours! Let us hope they get their act together on the following voyages.

Overall, though, not only did we have a grand time but we would gladly do it all over again!

DON & LILI TREMBLAY
Santa Monica, CA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

There she was, in all of her advertised superlatives: the greatest, the largest (151,000 tons), the costliest (about $800 million), the most beautiful superliner ever built, ad infinitum. It seemed that not enough praise could be lavished on any one vessel. In our opinion, she deserved all these accolades and more.

My wife, Lili, and I had seen news stories and ads in various travel papers and in our wildest dreams believed that being part of history in the Queen Mary 2’s maiden voyage might top off our life of travel throughout a great deal of the world.

Don and Lili Tremblay embark Cunard Line’s QM2.

At 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 12, ’04, the QM2 (earlier in the week christened by Queen Elizabeth) finally sailed away to the sound of a band playing, among other pieces, John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” There were well-wishers waving, drinks being passed around on deck (for a fee) and the feeling of euphoria. At the same time, many of us were thinking of the Titanic, which sailed under similar circumstances, while some concealed their concerns for security on a vessel that was such a logical potential target.

Much preplanning had gone into our trip. About eight months prior, we committed ourselves to one of the few remaining staterooms. Many other passengers had bought their tickets up to 18 months before. Advertised prices ranged from $2,869 per person for the lowest-class standard inside accommodation on a lower deck to $37,499 per person in the grand duplex suite. Our category was deluxe balcony at $6,249 per person.

These figures, however, do not reflect other miscellaneous add-ons which were later attached to the total bill, such as port charges, one-way airfare from Los Angeles to London and another one-way fare from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles.

And although advertised as an all-inclusive fare, each passenger was later billed $154 for tips. When confronted with this amount at the final reckoning of accounts, many people were quite dismayed. This sum, in fact, became part of the service persons’ wages instead of an actual tip. In other words, it was part of the overall contract, and no matter how much effort an employee displayed, he or she was not going to receive any more. Therefore, there was no incentive for personnel to go out of their way to please. Those who went above and beyond the call, however, were additionally rewarded with tips from individual passengers.

Lili and I spent three cold, blustering, wet days in London before the actual sailing date. We could not chance a possible strike or delay because of winter weather. As always, the city, still in Christmas mood, was bustling. Year-end sales were everywhere, but while prices may have appeared enticing to the natives, the exchange rate was discouraging at nearly two dollars to the British pound. As a result, we found everything very expensive. Nevertheless, on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, we went with the flow and had a great time — even walking in the rain.

The QM2’s many decks and lifeboats (capacity, 120 persons each). Photos: Tremblay

I would caution anyone boarding a ship in Southampton to plan well in advance and choose their mode of transportation carefully. We elected to go by train from Waterloo Station to Southampton (first class). We were loaded down with three roll-on suitcases and three carry-ons (filled with clothing for the cold of the first part of the trip, everything on board and, finally, for the tropics).

We were at a distinct disadvantage at the railroad station. Not only were trains being canceled and delayed because of inclement weather, we were entirely on our own — there were neither baggage porters nor carts that we could use.

The train itself was comfortable and not crowded, but it was difficult to board and alight. When we eventually reached the city of Southampton, we had just minutes to get our luggage off the train, after which we took a taxi to the ship. There certainly must have been a better way than the train. Others had used buses from various points.

All of this did not diminish from the excitement which awaited us at dockside. We were seemingly transformed into another world as taxis and limousines disgorged happy, anxious passengers with tons of luggage everywhere. So much luggage, in fact, that the ship’s porters could hardly keep up with the avalanche. For this reason, the ship departed an hour later than scheduled. Baggage was still on the docks as we were throwing out confetti streamers.

The first two days at sea were relatively rough (gale 8 conditions), and passengers were rather queasy. But by the time we reached the town of Funchal on Madeira Island, the seas were smooth and quiet. This condition prevailed throughout the remainder of our voyage across the Atlantic.

Everyone had the opportunity of electing side trips, which included Funchal plus Tenerife and Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. It was in the latter that we received our greatest welcome and sendoff. It being a Sunday, thousands of Spaniards grouped on the dock area, dancing, singing, waving and generally having a good time. Bus passengers on later excursions needed police escorts to move them through the crowds to the ship. This genuine spontaneity and goodwill of the Spanish people overwhelmed us all with emotion.

One of many fireboats meeting the QM2 in Ft. Lauderdale on Jan. 26.

We sailed along for 14 days, stopping at Barbados as well as St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

While I could describe the ship itself in greatest detail, let me just say that it lived up to its expectations. It was large, true, but also beautiful and comfortable. Staterooms were adequate, and service in all areas was excellent, provided by young people from Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Lithuania, Germany, the U.K., Canada and (the largest contingent) the Philippines. To our knowledge, there were no Americans.

The food was good and served in very moderate quantities in the main 2-story dining room, the Britannia. With so many other restaurants aboard, there was quite a variety of menus to choose from.

We were never at a loss for things to do. The program was full from early morning to late at night, and we could find something to our liking most of the time. There were 40 lectures sponsored by Oxford University; watercolor lessons; computer rooms and instruction; dance lessons; a fully equipped gym with its own swimming pool, massages and treatments; a planetarium with daily shows; a casino; multiple bars, and entertainment each night featuring guest stars such as Shirley Bassie and “American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard. Each day could easily have ended past midnight.

Many chose to sit around the outdoor pools to tan. This was especially true of the Northern Europeans aboard.

A bout of bronchitis even provided us the opportunity of visiting the ship’s medical facilities. They were quite adequate, and the two doctors aboard were very competent.

The most emotional arrival of the QM2 occurred as we approached our final destination, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Jan. 26. Scheduled to arrive at 8 a.m., the ship earlier had edged its way into the channel (no tugs were used anywhere at any time) and then 24 helicopters suddenly appeared overhead! That was something to behold.

Almost as suddenly, Florida Governor Jeb Bush made an appearance aboard the vessel. Security was very tight, with myriad police and Coast Guard boats all about. A U.S. Navy vessel was also alongside with its crew lined up in white uniforms to greet (and protect) us. Thousands of people lined the shores to wave as whistles and horns blew and fireboats shot streams of red and blue water high in the air. The sheer joy of it all was breathtaking.

Sure, there were kinks in the cruise. For instance, several days passed before restaurant service could be deemed adequate. It was apparent that the kitchens were overwhelmed with demands of a thousand persons at each of two daily sittings.

And then there was the the luggage question. With more than 2,600 passengers disembarking in Fort Lauderdale, we almost lost our cool waiting for bags to be offloaded. For some of us, this wait extended to five and six hours! Let us hope they get their act together on the following voyages.

Overall, though, not only did we have a grand time but we would gladly do it all over again!

DON & LILI TREMBLAY
Santa Monica, CA